Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Mr. Potato Head & Shoulders: Shampoo for Your Flaky Spud?

A few nights ago, amid quiet contemplation at home, I decided to post a “mash-up” on Facebook, in the hopes of eliciting a little wordplay competition from a friend or two. A similar post (“For Whom the Taco Bell Tolls”) a couple years ago had yielded some spirited commentary (my friend John McNally famously wrote, “Burger King Lear”, among many replies from many people) and I hoped for some of the same this time, by posting “Tae Bo Diddley.” Three people would join me to produce the bulk of a truly exceptional, stunning thread: the writers Joel Dias-Porter and Heather Fuller, and a former student of mine, Prithvi Jagganath, who proved his own mettle in devising many memorable mash-ups. In these moments, I do appreciate the Internet, as I haven’t seen Joel or Prithvi in person, in quite a while. A few days earlier, Joel had begun an “add a word, ruin a movie title” thread on his Facebook page, which drew many howlers from him and his friends. I took pride in my two contributions there—“An American in Paris Hilton” and “Gunfight at the Ofay Corral”—and therefore appreciated it when Joel conferred crucial early momentum upon “Tae Bo Diddley”, offering several comments, including “Doug E. Fresh Fields.” In the end, six people participated, by making 140 comments over approximately four hours. There were no rules but it was generally understood that we would rely upon celebrity names, book titles, catchphrase, place names, Americana, and institutional titles (e.g., corporate branding) for the bulk of our material. Some comments would influence those that followed. Some made me laugh aloud. Virtually all of them bore new meaning. By the end, this improvisation showcased a number of nuanced forms worthy of classification, to the extent possible, and brief review.

1. A B + B C = A B C. Perhaps the most common form of this wordplay mash-up, it relies upon two entities that share a common word or title. Examples: “Harrison Ford Taurus” (Prithvi) and “Weird Al Capone” (Heather).

2. Extension. This variation on the A B + B C continues the mash-up for another cycle, adding, in effect, a C D. Example: “Elizabeth Taylor Swift Boat” (Joel). This particular example starts with an actress, veers through a pop country music star, and ends with a controversial political attack, a feature of the 2004 American presidential race. In the end, the wronging of John Kerry can be laid at the feet of Elizabeth Taylor. Or perhaps the very craft bore her name.

3. Long Extension. Last year, I wrote a blogpost with the title “Midnight in the Olive Garden of Good and Evel Knievel,” which plays on a book title, a chain restaurant, and an American daredevil stunt man. It does not strictly follow, however, the A B + B C format, which we largely observed on Facebook. Example: “Rita Dove Soap Powder Keg of Beer Bellies” (Joel). If you slow down and read it, block by block, it’s an incredibly compact, fitting phrase, taking you, by way of addition, from the former Poet Laureate all the way to paunches borne of the suds.

4. Word within a Word. As opposed to the clean A B + B C, this form relies upon the reader discovering a word within a word in order to complete the mash-up. Examples: “Amelia Earhart attack” (Prithvi) and “Biscuit Carson” (Heather). In the latter, “Biscuit” stands alone but also presents a punning path to complete “Kit Carson.” Perhaps biscuits were the frontiersman’s favorite carbohydrate.

5. Front Loaded. In this example, the first half of the mash-up dominates the phrase, and at the same time, may employ the Word within a Word concept. Examples: “The Marlboro Manhattan” (Joel) and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo You” (Dan). This form, in particular, can create some sprinting and halting rhythmic possibilities.  

6. Acronym. In opposition to the Front Loaded example above, this form seems to create a slower clop at first, with more speed as the mash-up completes. Examples: “ROFL LMAO Tse-Tung” (Prithvi) and “KFC Everett Koop” (Dan).

7. Replacement-phone. This form relies on the reader’s ability to substitute a “homophone”, i.e., a same-sounding word, in order to complete the mash-up. Example: “50 Cent of a Woman” (Prithvi). The rapper 50 Cent begins the mash-up, but the reader must supply “Scent” for the film title, Scent of a Woman. The magic, of course, resides in the secondary meaning(s)—a beggar’s plaintive plea? or half of a woman made of a dollar? (or a larger amount?) etc. Oy!

8. Pun. To some extent, all of this was punning, but some of the replies further referred to the subject’s primary orientation. Example: “Kierkegaarden of Eden” (Dan). As a Christian philosopher, Kierkegaard may well have advocated a belief in the ‘fundamental households’ of faith—as a sign of spiritual health. What better household than Adam and Eve’s crib?

9. Self-Reference. It’s important to say who you are. Example: “HillBilly Joel Dias-Porter.” However you may see yourself, it’s still rock ‘n’ roll to me.

10. Complete Transformation. Enter “Remember the a la mode” (English III; his only comment on this thread) and “Pussy Galore’n Greene” (Heather). The latter mixes a 007 villainess with Lorne Greene, of Bonanza and Battlestar Galactica fame, in effect establishing a two-headed, transgender, double-agent space commander of sorts. The former ended the entire thread: a simultaneous forlorn farewell to old strongholds with a side scoop of ice cream melting on the battlements.



Brian Fitzpatrick also contributed to this thread. O, lone comment! Next time, Sir, hang out longer.

Joel Dias-Porter said...

Thanks again Dan. It was great fun. Next time I 'll drag a few of my friends with me.


Sounds good. I look forward to it.

Heather Fuller said...

Hello, Mr. Tater Hedy Lamarr, my favorite Ziegfeld of Dreamgirl. The generosity of spirit sustained thru this exchange is what makes poets/friends of poets so great. Abstraction? Silliness? As Henry Fool said, "I don't discriminate among modes of knowing."


Thanks for the kind words, Heather. Much obliged for this exchange. I was humbled by the sheer inventiveness of those involved. It was legendary Facebook punning night! --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------BA